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April 2010

Paul Collier and his Plundering Planet: When Both Economists and Environmentalists Don’t Get it Right

Otaviano Canuto's picture

Do you remember The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier’s 2007 book which became a classic? If you do, you will certainly like his latest work, The Plundered Planet. He came to launch his new book to the Bank this week, and I found it both fascinating and provocative. Let me give some examples of why.

Professor Collier, now the Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University, declares a two-front war on economists and environmentalists at the same time. He is against what he calls “utilitarian economists,” because if left on their own, they would end up plundering the planet. But Collier also takes on “romantic environmentalists,” who would be unable to eradicate hunger in case they’re given the chance to rule the world. So as you can see, the book’s premises don’t really fit into the script of the blockbuster, Oscar-winning movie Avatar.

For Collier, who also worked as the Bank’s Research Director some years ago, Nature is the lifeline for the countries of the bottom billion – and thus cannot remain untouched. With a strong faith in the power of well-informed ordinary citizens, Collier proposes a series of international standards that would help poor countries rich in natural assets better manage those resources. Technology, which enlarges the capacity of ordinary citizens, is also necessary to turn Nature into assets. But of course, in order to be effective and benefit the bottom billion instead of just the few at the top, regulation, which requires governance, is another seminal element of the equation to create prosperity. If you leave regulation out of the equation, as some Libertarians do, the result is nature plundered. But if you end up with too much regulation – curbing the use of Nature – and thus preventing technology, then the result is hunger. And I’m certainly not one of those radical, romantic environmentalists who can imagine a bottom billion who is hungry but happy.

The Service Revolution

Ihssane Loudiyi's picture

by Ejaz Ghani

China and India are both racing ahead economically. But the manner in which they are growing is dramatically different. Whereas China is a formidable exporter of manufactured goods, India has acquired a global reputation for exporting modern services. Indeed, India has leapfrogged over the manufacturing sector, going straight from agriculture into services.

Re-thinking Fiscal Multipliers

Raj Nallari's picture

Keynes is best known for suggesting fiscal stimulus policies and programs to increase aggregate demand to get out of a deep recession. Since the marginal propensity to consume is positive and less than one; the bigger it is, the larger the fiscal multipliers will be and the faster we will get out of a recession.

Re-thinking Economic Policy: An Overview

Raj Nallari's picture

The global financial and economic crisis of 2008 has brought an urgency to focus on shorter-term policy issues related to managing bubbles, analyzing current development paradigms, and drawing out policy lessons for future action, particularly lessons learned during the past two years. At the same, longer-term development challenges also must be addressed to avoid the mistakes of 1970s and 1980s when managing stabilization issues dominated economic policy making and development economics was pushed aside for a while. For example, with the exception of East Asian countries and more recently India, why are African, Eastern European and Central Asian, and other South Asian countries unable to sustain high growth rates for more than five to seven years? What are the policy implications of demographic changes and climate change? There is a need for policy discussion on frontier topics such as rethinking globalization in trade, finance, and labor; new economic geography; green growth; and inclusive, balanced, and sustainable growth.

The 15th-century Florentine Niccolo Machiavelli is said to be the first to state, “Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.” During a crisis, countries experiment with policies and learn a lot in a hurry. This overview shares this learning on early policy responses to the current economic crisis, focusing particularly on specific issues that are of interest to policy makers and practitioners in the developing countries. The overview is a compilation of notes that staff members of the World Bank Institute have used during global dialogues and international seminars and conferences since October 2008.

What brought the world to the edge of an abyss in September 2008? After quickly recovering from the Asian crisis of 1997-98, world economic growth accelerated during the period 2000-07. However, in hindsight, there was a ‘perfect storm’ in the making as US and European housing defaults began to pile up beginning in late 2006, oil prices doubled in a few months during late 2007 and early 2008, while rice, wheat, and corn prices jumped by 40-50% during the same period.

Have Institutions Failed Us?

Raj Nallari's picture

Institutions matter was the oft chanted mantra for the past fifteen years. We were told that in the presence of social conflict between various groups, between haves and have-nots, political power precedes political institutions, economic institutions and economic policies. But, political power could be de jure (due to constitution, fair elections and smooth transition to political power) or de facto such as dictatorships and authoritarian leaders usurping power by coups and violence. Sixteenth century colonialism established ‘settler’ and ‘exploitative’ institutions depending on the then existing ‘climate’ in the colonized countries. For example, if the climate was unbearable and malaria-stricken, the colonial masters established an exploitative relationship of shipping out natural resources. If the climate was hospitable, they settled in with family in these countries and started administration and other institutions.

More recently good institutions were supposed to emerge when only de jure political power is in place. Also, a political and legal system that places constraints on elites is often conducive for better institutions. Following this logic, institutional economists have reasoned that advanced economies with de jure democratic political institutions have smooth transition, predictability and place constraints on elites and abuse of political power, and have strong institutions that ensure a system of checks on the executive, law and order, property rights, etc. The theory of institutions is that bad policy outcomes are the result of bad institutions and these are common in developing countries, where the distribution of political power needs to be reformed and deeper causes need to be strengthened. Others have argued that market-oriented institutions are important for economic policy management. By this categorization, advanced economies had better institutions that led to sound economic performance and consistently higher economic outcomes.